The Production Methods of Neri di Bicci and the Prevalence of Cartoon Usage in Fifteenth-Century Florence
Diorio, Jennifer Adrienne
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Florentine artist Neri di Bicci (1418-1492) was one of the most prolific and financially successful artists of the fifteenth century. The hundreds of extant paintings from his workshop are a testament to his industry, which is further underlined by a close examination of the 798 entries he wrote between 1453 and 1475 in his account book, his Ricordanze. The purpose of this dissertation is to analyse the monetary and social history in Neri’s Ricordanze in order to provide a framework for an exploration of the way that paintings were constructed in Neri’s workshop, and a close examination of the evidence concerning collaboration between Neri and his contemporaries. This thesis determined that the repeated use of full-size paper patterns, known as cartoons, was a key aspect of Neri’s painting procedure. Cartoon usage was established by overlaying scaled images of paintings in Photoshop, which demonstrated that the outlines of many of Neri’s figures and architectural designs were identical. Analysing the price of Neri’s paintings also revealed trends which suggested that he used cartoons. Half of the 224 objects described in the Ricordanze cost 30 lire or less, and the average of the 40 paintings between two and four square meters was 151 lire, less than half the regional average for paintings of comparable size. Neri likely increased his profits by working faster than his contemporaries, since 15 of the 36 paintings with available completion times were finished in less than four months, and the overall average was seven and a half months. Cartoons were also shared between Neri, his contemporaries (including Fra Filippo Lippi and Pesellino), and former assistants such as Cosimo Rosselli, Giusto d’Andrea, and Francesco Botticini, since similarities in figure size were discovered using Photoshop. As a result of this study, we are left with a better understanding of fifteenth-century production methods and the movement of designs between workshops. Furthermore, we know that Neri ran his business in a highly organized manner, and that cartoons were used extensively in order to produce a large volume of affordable paintings in order to meet the growing quattrocento demand for devotional objects.